In April Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, published the Sláintecare Progress Report 2021-2023. As part of the announcement, the Minister highlighted the record level of investment and recruitment in the public health service; and reiterated that the level of home support hours being provided by the State was substantial. The Minister highlighted that the progress report pointed to a 26,000 increase in healthcare workers to the end of December 2023 and stated that numbers have increased again since then.

The Minister stated that employment levels at the end of March 2024, show that there were 148,293 whole-time equivalents (WTE) directly employed in the provision of health and social care services by the HSE and Section 38 hospitals and agencies. His announcement also detailed that a total of 63.62 million home support hours were provided between January 2021 and December 2023.

This Union has previously reported on the fact that, while there does in fact seem to be ongoing investment in staffing within the public health service, it does not always seem to benefit all grades of staff equally. The latest HSE employment census for April 2024 seems to demonstrate that this is still the case.

Let’s look at this specifically at the home support service. The increase in home support hours is a core tenant of the Sláintecare plan. And it makes sense that it would. The provision of home support hours would allow older people and those with disabilities to continue to live in their own homes for longer, negating the need for residential care. Health Care Support Assistants (formerly Home Helps) are obviously fundamental to the delivery of this service.

The latest HSE employment census shows that since December 2022, there has actually been a decrease in the number of Health Care Support Assistants employed by the HSE nationally with 43 fewer WTEs working for the HSE in April 2024.

It was an even worse case in HSE South West, where there are now 134 fewer WTEs working for the HSE since December 2022. This is interesting given that it was widely reported late last year in the media that the Cork and Kerry regions had some of the worst waiting lists for home support packages.

The above is happening within the context that other roles within the public health service, do appear to be seeing increased numbers in employment. Grade VIII (and above) management roles have increased by 81 WTEs since December 2022, an increase of 3.32%.

While government and the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, emphasise the record levels of investment and recruitment in the public health service, this investment is not uniformly benefiting all frontline healthcare workers. The recent HSE employment census reveals a troubling decrease in the number of Health Care Support Assistants, particularly in regions with significant home support service demands such as HSE South West.

This stands in stark contrast to the increase in higher management roles within the same period. It is imperative that the union continues to advocate for a more equitable distribution of resources to ensure that all grades of staff, especially those on the frontline, are adequately supported and recognised for their critical contributions to patient care.